Hayters’ diamond jubilee recalls famous golden duck

When it comes to memories of his old mate Reg Hayter, NORMAN GILLER was far from stumped

It makes me feel extremely ancient [The Ed writes: You are] to realise I was around when Reg Hayter was just starting out as proprietor and promoter of the finest independent sports agency in Fleet Street history.

Golden duck: Jimmy Greaves
Golden duck: Jimmy Greaves

Now, 60 years on, many of the sports journalists whose careers he kick-started will gather in London on Monday to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the launch of Hayters.

It is well-documented that Reg started out as a reporter for Pardons, an agency that specialised in cricket before being swallowed up by the Press Association. He had the courage and vision to quit his job and launch his own agency in 1955.

This was the same year that I became a Fleet Street copyboy, and I witnessed his hands-on approach to establishing his business. He would come into the Evening News office from his single room above the Wig and Pen in The Strand armed with exclusives for football correspondent JG Orange and cricket gossip for EM Wellings, with whom he had shared many cricket tours.

Reg made a fascinating character for my young eyes and ears, because you could not help but notice that words like football and cricket were a challenge for him, and they would come out as f-f-f-football and c-c-c-cricket.

He had managed to conquer a terrible stammer in his youth that came back in moments when he was excitedly selling his latest stories.

As my career slowly progressed, Reg’s agency quickly grew into a formidable force in Fleet Street. Faithful Freddie Garside ran the admin side, with Reg’s lovely wife Lucy somehow finding time to keep the accounts while bringing up their five children.

The agency made four moves to bigger offices within Fleet Street, before settling down to a 15-year stay at Gough Square. With each move, Reg would tell his contacts: “No worries. H-h-h-hayter’s the name, always the same.”

Football and cricket reporters could not enter a Press Box without having to ask for “the Hayters man”. Clever old Reg had installed telephones at many of the major grounds, and he hired them out to the newspapers. He would have seen the arrival of the mobile phone and laptop as a curse.

Reg was something of a Fagin of Fleet Street, gathering together teams of young, day-dreaming junior journalists and teaching them how to pick up stories, rather than pick pockets. Anybody lucky enough to work for Hayters would not earn much money but would leave much richer for the experience.

Just look at the names of some of the apprentices he turned into word sorcerers:

Martin Samuel, Mike Calvin, Alan Lee, Richard Keys, Gary Newbon, Henry Winter, Steve Rider, Mark Irwin, John Dillon, Malcolm Folley, Des Kelly, Peter Drury, Alex Montgomery, Steve Bates, Gerry Cox, and including our esteemed recent SJA chairman Barry Newcombe, as well as the doyen of freelances Dennis Signy and ace statistician “Ask Albert” Sewell, who was his first reporter.

The count must also include Peter Hayter, who followed in his father’s typing path as a probing and well-informed chronicler of cricket and until recently the must-read man for the Mail on Sunday.

Reg once told me that he had three commandments for his troops: “One, above all accuracy. Two, knowledge – get to know your sports and the sportsmen. Three, if you’re not sure what to do at a match, follow the Express man.”

As a former Daily Express man, that last commandment filled me with pride. He believed that the Express signed the best writers and reporters. I would go along with that theory, wouldn’t I? This, though, was in the long-gone days of the 4 million daily circulation.

Reg cleverly diversified and went down the literary agent road to boost the Hayters income. In his peak years he was agent/adviser/nursemaid to a string of leading sports stars including Denis Compton, Bill Edrich, Keith Miller, Godfrey Evans, Ian Botham, Basil D’Oliveira, Henry Cooper and Bob Wilson.

Reg Hayter: generations of sports writers learned their craft through his agency
Reg Hayter: generations of sports writers learned their craft through his agency

It is part of his legend how he used to keep details of all his negotiations hand-written in a red book, and he would be first in the office every morning with a ruler and a pile of newspapers, measuring how many lineage inches he could charge. Goodness knows how Reg would have managed in today’s world of instant headlines shared for nothing across the news hungry internet.

Partners Gerry Cox and Nick Callow have dragged Teamwork Hayters into the 21st Century with imaginative and innovative video journalism that would have baffled Reg. How could he have measured the lineage?

Gerry and Nick are boldly keeping the Hayters name alive and kicking with their advanced approach to sports news coverage, but I’m from the old typewriter and carbon Reg Hayter school. It was a lot more fun, you know.

My fondest memory of Reg is when he and dynamic Sun sports editor Frank Nicklin were jointly running the El Vino’s cricket team. These two loveable reprobates were inseparable at the bar or on the cricket pitch (always standing together at slip). Frank was even notorious for picking subs or reporters for The Sun who could play cricket to a good standard.

Back in the days when I was helping to establish Jimmy Greaves as a columnist, I negotiated for him to join The Sun. Frank was almost as interested in the fact that Jimmy had been a decent wicketkeeper as to what he could bring to the paper with his football celebrity and insights.

We are talking the early 1980s, and Frank put the arm on Jimmy to join the El Vino’s team for a charity match somewhere in deepest Derbyshire, Frank’s home county.

By then Greavsie was becoming a huge star in the Midlands because of his regular appearances for ex-Hayters man Gary Newbon’s Central TV sports show. His catchphrase, “It’s a funny old game” had caught on, and was hung on him at every opportunity, even though Jimmy insists that I ghosted it into his mouth and that he never actually said it.

Jimmy and I drove to Derbyshire for the match, a round trip of nearly 250 miles and, because of motorway hold-ups, we were in the car together for more than seven hours.

In the middle of it all, Jimmy went into bat for the Hayter/Nicklin team and was bowled middle stump first ball. As Jimmy trudged back to the pavilion after his golden duck, Reg Hayter said, for all to hear, “It’s a f-f-f-funny old game!”

Two punchlines to the story. Driving back through London, Jimmy’s BMW was smashed into by a London bus. A few days later Jimmy received in the post the local Derbyshire newspaper. The huge headline running across seven columns: GREAVSIE FLOPS WITH A DUCK.

“Eff me,” said Greavse, “that’s a bigger headline than I ever got for anything I did on the football pitch.”

Yes, Reg, it’s a f-f-f-funny old game.


Mon Mar 23: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards, sponsored by BT Sport, at the Grand Connaught Rooms

Wed, Apr 1: BT Sport/SJA lunch with Olympic champion rower Andrew Triggs Hodge. Booking details here

Mon Apr 13: SJA Spring Golf Day, Wimbledon Park GC. Booking details here

Wed May 13: SJA York Races Day, sponsored by Ladbrokes, at the Dante Festival. Click here to book your places

Mon Sep 14: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill Golf Club